The market leaders in Northern Europe share a common system for evaluating outdoor products from a sustainability perspective – and guiding the consumers to the better alternatives.
They sound slightly different in German, Swedish, Danish and Finish – Eine grünere Wahl, Ett grönare val, Et grønnere val and Vihreämpi Valenta – but they all mean the same: A Greener Choice. That it communicates “Greener” and not “Green” is a strategic decision, explains Fabian Nendza, Senior Sustainability Manager at Frilufts Retail, the mother company of Globetrotter in Germany, Naturkompaniet in Sweden, Friluftsland in Denmark, and Partioaitta in Finland, all four the largest retailer chains on their respective markets.
“It is commonly accepted that you should avoid stating that a product is ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘sustainable’. Rather, you can share how a product might be better than another. The bar is generally high within our group when it comes to all products, especially clothing. So, our products marked with ‘A Greener Choice’ are more sustainable than other comparable alternatives we offer. They are the ones that ‘walk the extra mile’.”
In the idea of ”greener,” there is also a forward motion, says Fabian Nendza. Step by step, the assortment should become better, from different sustainability aspects. “We want to drive development, in collaboration with our suppliers, where the ambitions and goals are gradually raised over time.”
This is the reason why the long-term goal is not to have an assortment of 100 percent products labeled with “A Greener Choice” at Globetrotter and the other companies within Frilufts Retail.
“We will instead raise the bar by making our different criteria tougher. Our 2025 goal is, for example, that 100 percent of the assortment from our companies should be investigated, and 25 percent be qualified.”
A Swedish heritage
The system was first conceived by Sweden’s Naturkompaniet. The company had an early start in promoting more sustainable products towards the end consumers, where in the mid-nineties Naturkompaniet was already promoting products made from eco-cotton and recycled polyester in their catalogues.
When A Greener Choice was launched in 2008, it was still an internal system for evaluating products, that was not shared outside the company. One reason for this was that sustainability standards, certifications and tools like the Higg Index were not in place at the time, making evaluating brands and products much more difficult.
Since then, the outdoor industry – or at least the textile parts of it – has gone through a rapid development in terms of sustainability. For several years now, there is a common understanding of most parts of an outdoor product’s life cycle – from materials sourcing to how circularity could better be implemented at the product’s end-of-life.
At Frilufts Retail, it was easy to see the potential for saving time and resources for both suppliers and the different retailers by implementing the same system in all its markets.
Fabian Nendza says that the company’s sustainability department learned much when they themselves performed life cycle assessments for the product range from Globetrotter’s in-house brand Frilufts.
Sustainability scoring system
In the beginning of 2018, Globetrotter went public with the score system behind Eine grünere Wahl, where it listed ten crucial criteria (see fact box). Products that fulfilled at least four of these would be designated with the label. In 2019, Frilufts Retail took one step further and added ten “no go’s” (see fact box).
“If only one of these ‘no-goes’ are present, it is impossible to belong to the Greener Choice-assortment. It doesn’t matter how many of the positive criteria that are met – the door is still closed,” explains Fabian Nendza.
Globetrotter alone offers 35,000 different products. With ten “no go’s” and ten positive criteria, evaluating the huge range of products that the retailers from Frilufts Retail offers is a full-time job. Literally.
“It’s a one woman show – it covers most of my time,” says Silke Sorgalla, CSR Manager Globetrotter A&P, who oversees the Greener Choice evaluations.
Evaluating products each season
For Silke Sorgalla, the year is divided in two halves, each with a similar rhythm. One for the fall/winter season, and one for spring/summer. When we talk, she is just about to start the research for spring/summer 22.
“In September, I start sending out our templates to our suppliers who are interested in taking part in the assessment for the upcoming season. These days, most of them are already familiar with what we are asking for. But there are always some new brands that I might need to explain how the system and the evaluation process works.”
The carry-over products that are already labelled with A Greener Choice are of course easy to check, if they are produced in the same way. When it comes to evaluating new products, however, Silke Sorgalla admits these can present a challenge.
“It’s still very much a hands-on job, with a lot of dialogue and researching. They can’t just fill in a form; I usually need to dig deeper and ask questions and track down documentation.”
“Certifications definitely make my life easier. And if I could ask for one thing, it would be that more sustainability information was part of the regular product sheets at more suppliers.”
A “work in progress”
After all the research is complete, the evaluation process begins. For fall/winter 21-22, Silke Sorgalla processed roughly 55 percent of Globetrotter’s assortment, where a total of 17 percent was labelled with A Greener Choice. If the same products are sold by Naturkompaniet in Sweden, for instance, they also are designated with the label in that market.
One flaw in the system at this point is that the other chains from Frilufts Retail offer brands that are not found at Globetrotter and are therefore not evaluated – even though their products might fulfill the requirements. Frilufts Retail members can, however, nominate brands of their choice. Also, smaller eco-minded brands might not have enough resources to document their production, materials etc. to satisfy the requirements.
While it remains the most comprehensive system for evaluating outdoor products on the European market, it is still a work in progress, says Fabian Nendza.
“After every season, we gather feedback from our suppliers and Silke and discuss how we can make it better. Because it’s easy to see: customer demand for more sustainable products and transparency is growing continuously.”
10 CRITERIA FOR “A GREENER CHOICE”
The products must fulfil at least four of the positive criteria. One or more of the “no-go’s” disqualifies the product for the label:
• Preferred natural material.
• Recycled material.
• Sustainable chemicals management.
• Transparency and traceability.
• Repairability and/or recyclability.
• Improved ecological footprint.
• Social responsibility.
• Made in Europe.
• Analysis of ecological and/or social performance.
• Social responsibility and / or compensation.
10 ”NO-GO” CRITERIA
• Cotton from Uzbekistan.
• PFC use.
• Product contains bisphenol A (BPA).
• Component of tritium in luminous color for digital color.
• Sunscreen and other cosmetics with an oxybene zone.
• Flame retardants.
• Manufacture in so-called ”risk countries.”
• Wool that is not mulesing-free.
• Disposable items.